What comes to mind when you envision Colorado? For many of us, it's snow-covered fourteen-thousand-foot peaks, aptly called “Fourteeners.” Whether it’s catching a glimpse of Mount Evans from the I-70 corridor in Denver, loading the family up for a drive to the top of Pikes Peak, or testing your limits in the rugged Elk Mountains, Fourteeners offer an experience for everyone.
People from near and far love the high altitude experiences available across Colorado; from casual day trippers to seasoned hikers, but unfortunately the rising visitation is taking a toll. These special moments experienced by hundreds of thousands of visitors each year are at risk. In a recent Denver Post op-ed, Colorado Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne explains, from her first-hand experience of hiking every Fourteener in the state, “these trails are eroded, fragile alpine habitat is being damaged, and recreational experiences are suffering.”
The rising visitation is taking a toll.
Local nonprofit organization, Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI), documented the costs of increasing visitor use and trail degradation in 2015 with the “Colorado Fourteeners Report Card” that rated trail and ecosystem conditions, determining more than $24 million in baseline investments would be needed to create 42 sustainable routes. Since 15 peaks were not part of the initial baseline inventory process, the total required to build sustainable routes to the summits of all of Colorado’s Fourteeners may approach $30 million.
Considering the formidable, costly challenge of creating sustainable routes to the top of Fourteeners, now is the time to look to innovative ideas. And those ideas need broad support. One organization alone cannot improve access, maintain trails and restore ecosystems across the state, but fortunately there are dedicated, experienced stewardship and volunteer organizations with the technical expertise necessary to make a big impact. And while many of these well-known organizations – such as CFI and Rocky Mountain Field Institute – have been stewarding Fourteeners for decades, they are now a part of a larger effort to increase the scope and pace of restoration.
The NFF is proud to launch the Find Your Fourteener campaign in a visionary effort to bring these partner organizations together to create forward-thinking solutions for our Fourteeners – and implement those solutions in a collaborative, coordinated manner.
In 2017, we’re proud to collaborate with the following stewardship organizations as part of the Find Your Fourteener campaign:
- Colorado Correctional Industries
- Colorado Fourteeners Initiative
- Colorado Mountain Club
- Friends of the Dillon Ranger District
- Mile High Youth Corps
- Rocky Mountain Field Institute
- Rocky Mountain Youth Corps
- Southwest Conservation Corps
- Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado
- Wildland Restoration Volunteers
In the past year we’ve worked together with all our partners to identify “pinch points” that are currently frustrating progress on Fourteeners by partner organizations and the U.S. Forest Service. Now, we’re beginning to implement solutions through work on three different peaks in 2017: Mount Elbert, Quandary Peak, and Pikes Peak.
On each peak, several stewardship organizations are working together in teams to develop collaborative volunteer events and with seasoned crews, now with more resources, volunteers, and coordination than ever before. We’re also working to build the capacity of staff tasked with performing highly technical, alpine trail and rock work – and the dedicated volunteers who make so much of the work possible – through training programs for rock rigging and alpine stewardship.
We’re thrilled with the work planned for 2017 as we launch the first year of work in a long-term effort to ensure that these peaks remain healthy, accessible and inviting for decades to come.